When Full Frontal came onto the political satire scene earlier this year, one thing was instantly noticeable: Samantha Bee’s machine-gun rants were unlike any other host’s delivery.
In a TV show genre that often has overlap in the chosen headlines to skewer, Bee and her team have engineered a formula for delivering those headlines in a markedly refreshing way. Every host has a specific tone for their comedy (John Oliver’s off-the-wall analogies; Trevor Noah’s charming befuddlement amusement; Stephen Colbert’s low-key zingers; and Seth Meyer’s barely suppressed self-amusement) but what Bee is keenly aware of is the element of performance. Her relentless tirades are a master class in not only solid writing, but how to execute it—all of which is a product of pure passion.
“I’m not the the kind of performer who sat around saying, ‘I can’t wait to do rants!’ I would never think of it that way,” Bee says. “When I started working at The Daily Show, I was really a fish out of water and then my confidence grew. And Jon [Stewart] was certainly so generous about encouraging us to go in the direction of our passions and that grew and grew over time in a natural way. So when it came time to create my own show, the one thing that I absolutely knew was that it was an opportunity to go just all-in on how I see the world, on what my passions are.”
When TBS greenlit Full Frontal, Bee and showrunner/The Daily Show alum Jo Miller had no idea how the show would be received, which embedded a sense of personal urgency in what they were creating.
“You just have to go balls-to-the wall because it might never happen again. We thought if at the end of this we don’t get picked up or no one watches the show, let’s just make as many episodes as we can of the show that we would absolutely want to make. And let’s not worry about it,” Bee says. “Let’s worry about making a show that we would want to watch first and everything else will either fall into place or go away and we’ll survive that too.”
And survive they have.
Full Frontal has pulled in an average of 724,000 viewers since January in comparison to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah’s 600,000. Sam’s passion project has been extended through the end of 2016, and it would certainly behoove TBS to go a step further and grant Full Frontal a second season because it’s the punch in the gut that America needs right now.
“When we started the show we knew that we wanted it to be really visceral. We knew that we would be talking about things that nobody else would be talking about. It wasn’t because we were specifically selecting topics of conversation that we knew no one else would touch. It was just because we wanted to talk about the things that were true to us,” Bee says. “It just flowed–the subject matter flows out of our interests and our passions and we knew that we wanted it to be that way.”
Bee is loathe to take her 21 minutes per episode for granted. In order to encapsulate all the topics she and her team are passionate about, there’s no time for filler. The exquisitely layered jokes peppered throughout Bee’s dizzying delivery is as much of a tool for time efficiency as it is a style choice.
“I’m very much about the audience experience–it’s very important to me to make the show in a certain way, to make it a fluid experience with as few stops as possible, to make it tight,” Bee says. “That’s what I like when I’m an audience member. I don’t really want to go to a show that you’re stopping and starting. It’s all about the flow and the way that the show was written and the way that I perform it. There’s a flow to it. There’s a thesis to it, because if you stop and start too much you lose the thesis in a way–you lose people in it.”
The concept of keeping things concise and flowing extends to the team at Full Frontal. It’s a relatively small operation (60 to 65 staffers) but passion is a powerful catalyst for efficiency. In a way, Bee is continuing Jon Stewart’s mandate that the writers and researchers behind a show follow what they’re passionate about.
“I can’t stress this enough: In many ways, I consider the best work that I’ve done at [Full Frontal] was building the team that we built because every person is essential to every second of the show. There isn’t a superfluous person. There is no redundancy in the work that anyone’s doing and everybody’s at the top of their game,” Bee says. “We hired people so carefully and the mission is the same and very true for everyone who’s there: to create a show that pleases all of us.”